Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Hawaii, Part 1 - The Vacation of a Lifetime


September 2015

     The house was finally paid for, family was in good shape and the glass block bank that we had been filling with dimes for the last 10 years could not hold another coin.  Our masons gave it to us when we finished building, said it would hold at least $1,000.  Masons exaggerate but we always said we would go to Hawaii when it was full.  It was the greatest trip we have ever taken.
     Hawaii and Florida are similar in many ways - golf courses aplenty, tropical landscapes, the tourist seasons, even the hurricane seasons!  September is slow for tourism in both states, offering great deals for the traveler.  We lucked out on the weather, getting only a few glancing blows from Tropical Storm Jimena but we had our rain gear, just in case!
     It's similar to Florida, but in many ways Hawaii is different from anywhere we've ever been.  Maybe it's because it is so far from anywhere - the farthest point from any landmass - something we learned during a fabulous day at the Polynesian Cultural Center on the north shore of Oahu.  The center has entertained and educated millions of visitors from around the world since 1963 with a showcase of cultures that originally discovered these islands more than 1,500 years ago.  Figi, Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga, Easter Island, Hawaii and New Zealand (Aotearoa as it is known in the ancient language of the Maori) are all represented here.


New Zealand

     Their sincerity in sharing their history and ancestoral past was quite moving.  People had to work hard to get here, work hard to stay here, even now.  Formed from fire deep in the Pacific, the islands of Hawaii are some of the newest formations in the world.  Along with people, everything living here has recently arrived from somewhere else.  The earliest people brought everything they might need to survive - canoe plants, they are called.  Taro, banana, sweet potato and breadfruit, ginger for cleansing, kukui nut for oil, noni for medicine and coconut palms for almost everything else - these are some of the original botanical species brought to a rocky chain of volcanic islands that generations have coaxed life from.
Travelers and Traveler Palm
     It does not take long for new species to take hold in this paradise.  Original plantlife had little competition.  Protective defenses like aggressive growth and bitter taste had less time to evolve here, allowing invasive species like golden bamboo and Brazilian peppertree to quickly dominate.  And in the time pre-man, one plant took hold here every thousand years.  Now ten plants per year find their way to Hawaii.  Sugarcane, pineapple and macadamia plantations stormed the islands in the 1800's and early 1900's, the remnants of which are still visible.  But they, too, are giving way to the next invasion - tourism and development which pay much better.  Possibly this is a better thing in the long run for Hawaii.  We visited several wonderful ranches, gardens and farms where all of the staff are eager to share their excitement for returning to a nurturing position when it comes to production and protection of these islands.  You would think that this is the most fertile place in the world, but soil and sand are just getting started here, geologically speaking.
     The staff at Kona Joe Coffee trellises their plants on the steep slopes of the Big Island of Hawaii, just like a vineyard, facilitating hand-harvesting on what would be a difficult terrain to work large pickers over.
Entrance to Kona Joe's
Trellised Coffee
Great View from the Tasting Patio
     Also on the Big Island, Bob and Pam Cooper of Original Hawaiian Chocolate found their beautiful collection of cacao trees on a visit, then bought the property and moved to Hawaii to make chocolate after years of managing a country club in North Carolina.  Bob gives one of the most interesting tours we've ever been on, knows every detail of the cacao plant and chocolate process and truly loves his newest career.  Their signature chocolate design is a Plumeria bloom, one of the most popular flowers in lei-making.
Original Hawaiian Chocolate "Factory"
Cacao Pods spring from every branch
So Many Colors!

     For 6 generations, descendants of the Judd Family have been caring for their Kualoa Ranch on the north shore of Oahu.  Over 4,000 acres of private nature reserve, it includes a cattle ranch, outdoor recreation and environmental education opportunities, film locations, Mokoli'i Island and an 800-year-old fish pond that is still in operation.
Foundations from the Past
Across Kualoa Ranch to Mokoli'i Island
Crossing the Moli'i Fish Pond
     Balancing nature and tourism in an art in Hawaii.  The Aloha spirit is evident everywhere.  People come and embrace this paradise on each side of the experience.  At Garden of Eden Arboretum along the Hana Highway on Maui, Alan Bradbury has created a self-sustaining botanical wonder that absolutely charms the visitor.  He also leases rappelling rights to Rappel Maui who offer the most amazing experience -  rappelling the waterfalls that drop through this rainforest!  Guides led us, prepped us, instructed us, encouraged us, and at the end carried every last rope back out with us, leaving barely a trace of our trek through this garden.  Truly tourism at its finest.
Garden of Eden, Maui